United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Online Discussion

"Participation and access of women to the media
and their impact on and use as an instrument
for the advancement and empowerment of women"

26 August to 27 September 2002

Week Three Summary

"Representation and Content Issues"

We have just concluded another exciting week of online discussion on the topic "Representation and content issues." For the third week of our online discussion, the contributions focused on:

  1. steps that can be taken by media organizations/media enterprises to develop awareness among their own employees about the implications of gender stereotyping in media content, and to promote gender balance in the selection of sources, topics and approaches
  2. repercussions from the shift to more privately owned, commercial outlets that depend on advertising revenue, in relation to media content and gender portrayal; strategies in monitoring or regulating fair gender portrayal
  3. monitoring and advocacy initiatives that have opened up dialogue between women's organizations, gender specialists and media professionals and advertisers; changes in media content due to such initiatives
  4. media education strategies that have been developed to make the general public aware of gender patterns in media content and advertising; results from implementing such strategies
Again, I have classified the contributions according to the answers and analysis they provide on the following issues:
  1. Steps that can be taken by media organizations/media enterprises to develop awareness among their own employees about the implications of gender stereotyping in media content, and to promote gender balance in the selection of sources, topics and approaches

    The examples and suggestions provided by the discussants are:
    • including as many women as possible in the media organization's database of resource persons;
    • playing all women's music in women's shows;
    • discussing issues from the women's point of view [or from a gender perspective];
    • collecting all available materials highlighting the implications of gender stereotyping and making these materials available to media practitioners;
    • conducting research or further research [on gender stereotyping] and its implications;
    • ensuring gender sensitivity [in all phases of production beginning with] programme planning;
    • recruiting staff on gender balance basis
    • including gender issues in training materials
    • evaluating media contents objectively and taking appropriate measures for improvement;
    • conducting audience analysis and giving feedback to media practitioners; and
    • conducting gender awareness training.

    Moreover, it was cited that TV channels in Egypt are now taking a more liberal approach in discussing various social and political concerns placing special focus on contemporary gender issues.

    Nicola Joseph from Australia mentioned the coverage of the Earth Summit in South Africa by community broadcasters as a good example of gender- and race- sensitive reportage.

    The discussants pointed out to other efforts taken by institutions outside of the media. For instance, the government of Lebanon has recently launched a campaign to promote gender balance in various fields including the media. While a balance has not been achieved, the campaign is still going on to change women's images in the media.

  2. Repercussions from the shift to more privately owned, commercial outlets that depend on advertising revenue, in relation to media content and gender portrayal; strategies in monitoring or regulating gender- fair portrayal

    Bianca Miglioretto from Switzerland opined that the commercialization and privatization of radio and TV has resulted into the employment of more young women but this is because they accept lower salaries. According to Bianca, this has even worsened the coverage. With commercialization and privatization, it is much harder to lobby for gender fair reporting in the media than it was with public broadcasting corporation.

    Nicola Joseph drew attention to the dominant global stereotypes in terms of race and gender. Some of the stereotypes that Nicola cited are those of oppressed Arab/Muslim women; African women mired in poverty; or Asian women as mail order brides. These global stereotypes feed local situations, especially in the North-a fact that highlights the media's role in the current conflict. Nicola also noted the blurring of lines between TV advertising and programming as in the case of MTV music videos that also perpetuate global stereotypes of women.

    Isabella Waterschoot from Trinidad & Tobago shared the opinion regarding stereotypical dichotomy based on race and ethnicity and which, according to her, extends to access to and employment in the media.

    The competition for advertising revenues has reinforced the use of women as sex objects, as observed in Lebanon and in Gambia. Our discussants suggested the enforcement of sanctions against all advertisements and media productions that negatively portray women.

    In Fiji, the concern about the availability of imported media in the form of "pay TV" has been more about programme formatting rather than programme content. However, there is also a concern over the conservative views that foreign evangelical media propagates and the fact that such views are not linked to the Fijian identity.

    In India, the access to a large number of global channels has resulted in the deterioration of entertainment content in terms of social relevance. Doordarshan, the government-owned television channel used to produce good gender-sensitive and socially-relevant serials and programmes, perhaps because of government guidelines to that effect but now, the entertainment being dished out by global and private TV channels, specially in local languages, is trashy and blatantly promotes stereotypes of both women and men. [In terms of scope], the news coverage has improved. However, global stereotypes persist and women's voices are still not heard.

  3. Monitoring and advocacy initiatives that have opened up dialogue between women's organizations, gender specialists and media professionals and advertisers; changes in media content due to such initiatives

    In Switzerland, the media trade unions have employed gender equality desks. Bianca Miglioretto added that the best environment for gender fair reporting are community media, as they are independent and are not profit-oriented.

    In the Gambia, the Women's Bureau and women's organizations demand better conditions and treatment for women which has resulted to more coverage of women and women's issues.

    The journalists´ trade union in Buenos Aires has helped women journalists in their training and it has opened spaces for reflection and discussion on communications with a gender perspective.

  4. Media education strategies that have been developed to make the general public aware of gender patterns in media content and advertising; results from implementing such strategies
Bianca Miglioretto provided us with practical tips in conducting training. In all [media] training ensure that:
  • there is a women's perspective in the development of training modules;
  • half of the participants are women;
  • there are women resource persons;
  • half of all the examples are on women and women's issues;
  • gender fair language is used; and
  • examples of gender fair, non-stereotyped reporting are provided.

It is also important to organize women's training on technical subjects and employ women as trainers in such training. Bianca added that for those who are indifferent to gender issues, gradually mainstream gender in the conduct of training.

The Equality Office of the city of Zurich, Switzerland has carried out several advertisement campaigns in public transportation to break stereotypes. Some of these ads include teasers like: "Who would you prefer as pilot in your flight to New York?, " "Who would you prefer to take care of your sick mother?," "Who would you rather employ as a cleaning person," or "To whom would you bring your car for repair?" Together with each of these questions are the faces of a woman and a man. Another campaign play with words and statistics around the issue of who does more household work. It ended with a call for change by saying to be continued... Both campaigns lead to discussions among passengers and in the media.

Dialogues among women's rights groups, NGOs, and advertising professionals have also been held to discuss specific ads that have been found to be sexist. However, Bianca believes that the advertising sector was not willing to see when commercials are sexist and neither were they ready to consider other alternatives.

The Centro de Estudios de la Mujer (CEM) in Argentina with the support of UNIFEM gives awards to non-sexist advertisements in conjunction with the prestigious Iberoamerican Festival of Publicity. This has proven to be effective in changing stereotypes especially when complemented with other educational campaigns and teacher training. Gloria Bonder elaborated that the members of the jury that selects the awardees include journalists, representatives of women/feminist organizations, educators, and publicity professionals from different countries of Latin America. CEM also organizes educational campaigns in 5 countries of Latin America including electronic forums, and other networking and exchange activities. There are also plans of holding a contest of ads for young publicity professionals.

Another initiative that Gloria spoke about is the Regional Campaign in Latin America called " Eyes that see, heart that feels" conducted in Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Mexico. The campaign was participated in by women´s NGOs and schools in each country. 2500 students joined a school activity aimed to promote the "discovery" of gender and social stereotypes in publicity using a common methodology; discuss the findings and propose new content and images to represent a gender and class- and ethnicity- fair publicity.

Fatimata Seye Sylla from Senegal stressed that women are more inclined to participate when the trainers are women. She shared the results of a research conducted in Senegal that proved that women are capable of producing their own information. Such finding led to the establishment of a women's radio station called Manore (Know-how) FM.

Divina Paredes from New Zealand believes that the best place to start is in the academe. She suggested the enforcement of rules against the use of sexist or gender-insensitive language in the classroom, in research papers and in discussions. According to her, these rules should cover all departments because media practitioners do not necessarily come solely from journalism and communications departments. Divina's other suggestion is to include gender- sensitive reporting in courses on media coverage and reportage. Anjali Mathur from India supported Divina's suggestion. However, she stressed that gender sensitization has to be incorporated into the entire education system--beginning from kindergarten level. Divina also suggested that media advocacy groups establish close links with journalists who would be open to promoting ideas on fair coverage by inviting them to forums and sending them materials for publication or broadcast.

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls cited the media mainstreaming training which includes discussion of the Women and Media Section of the Beijing Platform for Action (Section J) and the United Nations Resolution on Women and Peace conducted by the National Council of Women of Fiji (NCWF). These discussions among women NGOs, media, and government representatives were organized in the light of the post-conflict reconstruction stage in Fiji --an important strategy of linking the documents and issues together which resulted in actual media coverage rather than just forming resolutions which, according to Sharon, "sometimes just end up as words on paper." Similar discussions participated in by television management representatives have been organized. Such meetings have given the NCWF opportunity to pursue their lobby against an ad of a whitening cream. Sharon observed that change is possible in advertising as some companies are using a social marketing approach. Another initiative in Fiji is the media education for teachers and the wider community through the conduct of workshops, and production of newsletters and video by the group SIGNIS.

Uca Silva from Chile spoke about a media monitoring project in Chile in 1987 which aimed to promote a gender perspective in the media and address issues of representation and sensitivity. She also informed us about a collective study by the Working Group of the Southern Cone that was mainly a quantitative analysis of the presence of women in the media. The study aimed to provide a common framework and clear indicators for the implementation and evaluation of gender-sensitive communication. It also hoped to enable communicators, academics, and activists to formulate strategies for change.

Other inputs

Jane Haile from Belgium raised the point that men are also stereotyped in the media. "Men and masculinity have been treated as givens, as "norms" against which women and femininity were compared," she said. She cited studies in the United States that showed masculinity based on the traditional patriarchal white middle class norm wherein men are portrayed as successful, high status, initiators of action, autonomous and rational. Gay men, on the other hand, are defined by their "problem" and tend to be secondary or stooge characters.

Anjali Mathur from India highlighted the importance of feedback from readers and women journalists which can possibly lead to a change in editorial policies.

Additional contributions to week 2

More contributions to the week 2 topic "Access, employment, decision-making" came in this week.

Mariam Fayez informed us that the Government of Egypt has established a 'Gender Unit' in all its ministries and government agencies. The aim of the unit is to ensure [equal] opportunities in the work place [including the media.]

In Switzerland, one trade union in the electronic media is working on gender-mainstreaming directed towards employment.

In Senegal, Fatimata Seye Sylla observed that there are now more women in the media but few are at the decision-making levels. At the national radio, television, and newspaper organizations, most of the women are employed as technicians and reporters. In a few cases where there are women in decision-making positions-as in the case of the national TV where the director is a woman, there is still no impact on gender equity.

Tanushree from India confirmed that in her country, while a large number of women have already reached senior positions in the media, they have not reached a critical mass as yet. Another interesting observation that Tanushree presented is the correlation between media ownership and recruitment policies and employment. Tanushree contends that in India, recruitment policies in government-owned TV and radio companies are non-discriminatory whereas in the privately-owned print media, employment and promotion for women is often arbitrary.

Ulrike Helwerth from Germany shared the same observation that despite the increase in the number of women in decision-making positions in media, there has not been any significant improvement in the portrayal of women in the media. She spoke about the mentoring and gender training projects that they have undertaken to address the perennial problem of negative, and stereotypical portrayal of women in the media. She also shared the training and evaluation that her organization conducted for the "Deutschland" magazine-an excellent example of possible collaboration with government.

Rita Henley Jensen from the United States shared with us a study that reveal that the actual number of women in media is decreasing. It may be accessed from the May 21 2002 release of Women's Enews . Women's Enews is a non-governmental response to both the lack of women in leadership roles in news media and the lack of news coverage about issues of special concern to women. It assigns free-lance journalists around the globe to research and write news about these issues and distribute a daily news story via e-mail to media outlets and opinion leaders, as well as the general public. It also provides training for journalists (and interns) to look for news stories related to these issues. Another initiative cited by Rita is that of the Washington-based International Women's Media Foundation, which conducts leadership training for women. The Media Management Center at Northwestern University--a dual program of the Kellogg School of Management and Medill School of Journalism is another effort to teach women in middle management skills they may need to rise higher, such as negotiating techniques and marketing strategies.

Dafne Sabanes Plou from Argentina informed us that the offering of courses on Social Communications has allowed more Argentine women to enter the media profession and has helped female journalists to reach middle or even senior decision-making positions. She stressed however, that these advancements have been part of the overall advancement of women in Argentine society. Dafne also underlined the role that the Argentine women's movement played in the fight against the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 and in the consolidation of democracy after that. She also spoke about the contribution of the community radio movement led by organizations like the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) in empowering women not only in small towns and rural areas, but also in the suburbs of big cities.

Dafne also drew attention to persistent issues such as sexual harassment in the work place and the existence of a glass-ceiling that hinder women´s [advancement] in any career.

Raijeli Nicole from Isis-Manila supported the previous observations that employment patterns in the new media would not be significantly different than women's employment in traditional media print, TV and radio. Raijeli cited a research project that Isis coordinated as part of the Beijing +5 Review process which brings to the fore economic status, geographic locations and ethnic identities-factors that affect women's participation in communication processes. Raijeli also underscored the lack of women's access to the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and gender biases in their development.

Thank you once again to all those who participated in the second week of the DAW online discussion on women and media including those who contributed to the week 2 topic on access, employment and decision-making. I would like to invite those who were not able to take part in this week's discussion. You are most welcome to share your ideas in the coming weeks. Looking forward to everyone's enthusiastic participation.

Warm regards,

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

Go to summaries for week: One ,Two , Three , Four , Five
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Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations